A Brief County History
SALT LAKE COUNTY is named for the Great Salt
Lake, Salt Lake City is the county seat and the
capitol for the state of Utah. The fertile
Salt Lake Valley lies between the Wasatch Mountains
on the east, with their steep mountains and deep
canyons, and the Oquirrh Mountains on the west. The
Wasatch Fault runs along the mountains to the east.
For centuries, prehistoric Indians and the historic
Northern Shoshone and Ute Indians used the area for
hunting, fishing, and gathering seasonal foods.
Fremont Indians lived in pithouses in the valley
about 900 years ago.
It is believed that the first white people were trappers working for William H. Ashley in 1824-25. But the first permanent white settlers began to come in 1847, when the first Mormon wagon train arrived. Leader Brigham Young directed men to explore the valley and canyons, build a fort, and survey a new city. The first school was held in the tent of 17-year old teacher, Mary Jane Dilworth. In the next two years settlers founded a dozen towns in the county. Because they lived so far from any other city, the settlers had to make the things they needed. They established industries to make everything from pottery to paper, and experimented with growing all kinds of crops.
In 1862 US troops established Fort Douglas to protect communications and transportation routes, and to keep an eye on the Mormons who seemed so strange and unpredictable to the rest of the nation. Tens of thousands of Mormon immigrants came to Salt Lake City, many then moved on to outlying settlements. For thousands of travelers bound for California, the city was also the last major place to buy supplies.
As the headquarters of the LDS church, and later the territorial and state capital, Salt Lake City and its county have always been the center of population, political power, and economic strength. It has also been the center of power struggles between Mormons and “Gentiles,” particularly before statehood in 1896.
Industrial development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought new immigrants, such as Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavs, African Americans, Japanese, and Mexicans, to the county. The founding of the University of Deseret (Utah) in 1850 and the dedication of the Salt Lake Theatre in 1862 show the commitment of early settlers to education and culture.